Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, a psychiatrist whose ideas about racism and society sparked years of debate and controversy, has died at age 80, according to the Washington Informer, which cites confirmation from her relatives.
Welsing had been hospitalized in Washington, D.C., this week after suffering a stroke. Announcing her death Saturday morning, activist and radio host Harry Allen wrote, “The void she leaves has no boundary.”
As news of Welsing’s death emerged, she was mourned by many – including musician Chuck D, who credits her with the intellectual inspiration for the 1990 Public Enemy album Fear of a Black Planet.
Civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was also among those mourning Welsing today. According to the Informer, Welsing was kept on life-support systems until her sister, Loren Cress Love, could travel from Chicago to be with her.
A native of Chicago who graduated from Antioch College and Howard University’s medical school, Welsing rose to prominence after publishing an essay in 1970 titled “The Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy).”
In that essay, Welsing put forth the idea that racism was a worldwide behavior – and that whites’ status as a global minority feeds a fear that leads to oppression and violence.
Speaking about Welsing, Greg Carr, head of Howard University’s Department of Afro-American Studies, says in an email today, “The fact that she was largely unknown and/or caricatured when discussed at all in white public discourse reflects the tremendous gap that continues between black and white public spheres.”
In a 1974 TV appearance with William Shockley on Tony Brown’s Black Journal, Welsing said:
“I think that… even though most white people are not consciously understanding their problem in genetics, they are certainly aware that they are genetically dominated by people of color – that’s why there’s the statement that one drop of black blood makes you black. Because people of color have the genetic capacity to annihilate white people.”
Welsing later expanded on those ideas in a collection of essays titled The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors. In the introduction to that 1991 book, she described a “planetary game of chess” and stressed the importance of understanding racial behaviors and symbols.
Her critics felt Welsing took that analysis too far in some directions — as when she interpreted homosexuality as “a strategy for destroying Black people that must be countered” in The Isis Papers.
In a 1985 segment with talk-show host Phil Donahue, Welsing said that her thinking about racism stemmed from her work as a psychiatrist.
“I knew I had to understand racism to help solve the mental health problems of black people,” she said.
While Welsing was famous for taking on broad questions of race and domination, she also spent decades working as a psychiatrist in Washington, where she was, according to a recent online biography, a physician for the Department of Human Services and as the clinical director of two schools for emotionally troubled children.
Calling for strong families and role models in the black community, Welsing wrote, “Children are the only future of any people.”